War Songs of the Nagoas and the Guaiamuns

The following bit comes from the June-July- August 1996 edition of the Brazilian newsletter Capoeirando:
A musical relic from the last century

In the Toque de Berimbau [musical section of newsletter] the first registration of the musicality of capoeira in the 19th century: a song of challenge between the two great capoeira groups: the Nagoas and the Guaiamuns.

The Guaiamuns sang:

Terezinha de Jesus
Abre a porta e apaga a luz
Quero ver morrer Nagoa
Na porta do Bom Jesus

And the Nagoas responded:

O castelo içou bandeira
São Francisco repicou
Gaiamum está reclamando
Manuel Preto já chegou

These were part of a capoeira song and were registered by Plácido de Abreu in his book Os Capoeiras* in 1886 in the city of Rio de Janeiro. The author called it a "tune" and it reveals the conflict between the two groups in the 19th century: the Gaiamuns and the Nagoas. These groups were divided into various factions based on city neighborhoods.

Today, these "tunes" have significant historic value as they confirm the presence of music in the conflicts as well as the name of the capoeira groups, and they reveal the presence of Manoel Preto, who was then one of the leaders of the Nagoas.

Interpreting this “tune” we can understand a little better the culture of capoeira of the maltas [gangs] of the 19th century. This song is the oldest registration of musicality related to the practice of capoeira.

*ABREU, Plácido de. Os Capoeiras Rio de Janeiro. Tip. Escola Seraphim Alves de Brito 1886. p. 03
In her book The Hidden History of Capoeira, author Maya Talmon-Chvaicer offers further insight into the song, including a translation:
Documents and illustrations from the early nineteenth century bear witness that musical instruments were played during the capoeira game, but no description of songs is provided. It is only toward the end of the century that various sources mention songs connected to capoeira. Abreu wrote that before rival capoeira groups got into a fight they would challenge their rivals with songs like the one the Gaiamus sang:

Terezinha de Jesus
Open the door and turn off the light
I want to see dead Nagoa
At Bom Jesus' door

The rival team would answer:

The fortress raised a flag
São Francisco answered with a drum beating
Guaiamu is complaining
Manuel Preto has shown up.

Manuel Preto was the Santana group leader's nickname and put the fear of God into his enemies' hearts. The Nagoas used images that belonged to their spiritual world. The flag, as described above, was used to communicate with the world of the dead. This is evident in the flag waving during funerals. São Francisco, a Catholic saint, used a drumbeat to overcome the Guaiamu. Africans compared their deities to the Catholic saints and worshipped them while hiding their African deities behind Catholic ones. Saint Francis was syncretized with the orixá Orunmila, the great benefactor of humanity and its principal adviser. He reveals the future through the secret of Ifa, the supreme oracle. He is considered a great healer. The drums warn against imminent danger but also communicate with other worlds and possess supernatural powers that infuse Manuel Preto with such strength that the "Gaiamu is complaining".

The Guaiamu were influenced mainly by Christianity, which is evident in their challenging song and their use of the names Therezinha (little Saint Theresa) and Jesus and the images "open the door and turn off the light", signifying the notion of extinguishing the life of the Nagoa and opening the doors of heaven for his soul. Songs used as challenge were widespread in the Yoruban cultures in the context of war. They had remarkable psychological influence. Evoking the memory of extolled victories, eminent warriors, spirits, and ancestral fathers that help in the war effort, songs were supposed to cheer up fighters and frighten their enemy. As Yoruban culture was very influential among the enslaved population from the mid-nineteenth century onward and as the Capoeiras were increasingly associated with belligerence, we can see why the ritual challenge was connected to song in the late nineteenth century. These songs were soon categorized as "war songs".
Both the book and the newsletter are packed with information about capoeira. We will be posting more from each in the upcoming months.

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